for National Geographic News
Huddled together in car trunks, glove compartments, and underneath seats, thousands of unhealthy puppies each year are being smuggled into the United States from Mexico, animal control officers say.
Usually only a few weeks old, the tiny pups are sold for up to a thousand dollars each in shopping center parking lots and on street corners throughout California.
Most are trendy toy breeds or designer poodle mixes in high demand. But the animals are often too sick or too young to survive without their mothers.
"To us, the puppy is a family member, but to the people who are selling them, it's a dollar bill," said Lt. Daniel DeSousa of the San Diego County Department of Animal Services in California.
Puppy peddling is a lucrative business in California, animal control officials say. A smuggler can generate profits of more than $10,000 a month, they say.
They fear it may be only a matter of time before the problem spreads into other U.S. states.
It's legal to bring puppies into the U.S. But DeSousa says the smugglers avoid declaring the pups to evade paying taxes, which would cut into their profits.
To tackle the problem, the Border Puppy Task Force (BPTF)a consortium of California animal welfare and law enforcement agenciesformed last March.
"Typically, because of our budget constraints, we react to issues and then we try to put out the fire," explained Capt. Aaron Reyes of Los Angeles County's Southeast Area Animal Control Authority, who heads the Task Force.
"On this one, we recognize that we have an issue. It's growing and disturbing so we're tackling it head-on."
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